A film “that reeks of reality and smells of dream”, this is how the enfant terrible of Brazilian cinema Cláudio Assis sums up his latest movie. He has previously directed the sexually frank and very provocative Bog of the Beasts (2007) and Rat Fever (2011), and he is often described as one of the most audacious filmmakers in the country – click here for our review of his previous movue. Assis has now toned down the strife and controversy, and created a much more tender and soothing movie, if still very offensive to the sense of smell.
The film follows the footsteps of the adolescent Xico (Rafael Nicácio), who has a passion for poetry. His alcoholic and abusive father Francisco (Matheus Nachtergaele) disapproves his tendencies, dismissing them as symptomatic of vagrancy and homosexuality. Francisco works with his lorry Big Jato high pressure cleaning septic tanks in the fictitious town of Stonefish, supported by his son most of the time. The boy has a a role model in his bon vivant uncle Nelson (also interpreted by Nachtergaele), who spends is always partying with friends, or immersed in music and literature.
Claúdio Assis has teamed up with DOP Marcelo Durst in order to create his most visually astounding film to date, with strangely vivid colours of the Brazilian semi-arid hinterlands, blurry visions and technically daring camera movements. The beauty of the images is in stark contrast to Francisco’s repulsive job: unclogging pipes and cleaning up faeces. Cinema’s technical inability to convey smells ensures that the film remains pleasurable and easy to watch. The result is a an oneiric experience which will linger with audiences for a long time. Here, even the dirt looks elegant and attractive.
Big Jato also delves a very Brazilian affair: the relationship between the hinterlands and the sea. The town of Stonefish is a reference to the fact that the area was under the bottom of the sea, with abundant fish fossils. Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha epitomised the matter in his film Black God White Devil (1964) and famously prophesied: “the hinterlands will turn into sea, and the sea will become the hinterlands”. Xico too longs for the sea, and his poetical coming-of-age is akin to a country in constant mutation, just like its landscape.
In other words, Xico has two choices. He can either leave his family behind and run after his dreams, perpetuating the cycle of life and the cycle of culture. Or he can stay at home, stuck in shit, and end up fossilised – just like the ancient fish.
Above all, Big Jato is an ode to artistic freedom, minus the shock elements of Assis’s previous pieces. An urgent film made during a dangerous time when very reactionary forces in Brazil and the world are rising, a strong reminder that only culture can stop the clocks from turning back, and only art can liberate.
Big Jato has been shown is festivals across Brazil and the world. It won four out of the five main categories at the Brasília Film Festival in September including the Candango trophy for best picture, best actor for Matheus Nachtergaele and best actress for Marcélia Cartaxo. The film also won the trophies for best screenplay and soundtrack. It will premiere in the UK later this year, so stay tuned for more information.
You can watch the film trailer (in Portuguese) below: